Haley Morris, a senior in elementary education, reads with a young student. Morris tutors in the Fred Duffelmeyer Reading Improvement Clinic. Photo by Ryan Riley.

Fred Duffelmeyer Reading Improvement Clinic adding pilot program for struggling readers

An Iowa State University program is helping children become better readers as it expands to serve new students.

“Our reading improvement clinic is a win-win situation,” said Diana Claus, a lecturer in the School of Education who coordinates the Fred Duffelmeyer Reading Improvement Clinic. “ISU students learn to assess students to determine their needs and create an individualized, personalized plan to motivate and educate struggling readers and writers.”

As these plans are developed, Iowa State students focus on research-based reading improvement strategies, a core component of the program. The future teachers will begin tutoring Jan. 31 as the clinic launches its spring 2017 sessions — which will include a new pilot program where tutors visit Mitchell Elementary School in Ames to meet with readers.

Ever evolving

As more tutors join the program (last fall, numbers reached nearly 100), program leaders are finding ways to engage with readers in new ways.

“Our goal is to have several sections that meet right after school and do the tutoring in the schools, as well as on campus in the reading clinic,” said Linda Impecoven-Lind, a senior lecturer in the School of Education who serves as a co-director of the clinic.

Mandy Ross, associate superintendent of Ames Schools, said the school-based collaboration pilot at Mitchell will make tutoring services more accessible for students.

“The pilot will give us the opportunity to explore expanding the reading clinic into all of our elementary schools,” Ross said. “We believe this will be mutually beneficial for our students and ISU students.”

Whether on campus or off, the interactions with tutors and readers can be life-changing.

“I’ve learned so much about the importance of creating meaningful relationships and connections with students in order to provide the best instruction possible for them,” said Haley Morris, a senior elementary education major who has tutored in the clinic. “The Duffelmeyer reading clinic not only serves as an amazing program for us Iowa State students wanting to become educators, it also acts as an awesome tutoring program for students in the Ames area.”

Serving a growing need

As an increasing number of school districts in Iowa require reading endorsements for K-3 teachers — as well as late-elementary and secondary teachers — the School of Education is preparing tomorrow’s teachers today. Undergraduate and graduate students who participate in the clinic are enrolled in Curriculum and Instruction (CI) courses within the School of Education.

“Our courses provide ISU students with the skills and experiences that lead to a reading endorsement,” said Emily Hayden, an assistant professor of literacy education who serves as clinic co-director with Impecoven-Lind. “With the recognized need for improvement in literacy skills, a reading endorsement tells prospective employer school districts that our ISU graduates have the commitment, experience, skill, and passion to work with all readers in our schools.”

Morris knows the benefit of the skills-plus-experience approach.

“During my time working in the clinic, I’ve not only gained more knowledge on reading strategies, but also real-life experience working with a struggling reader and tailoring instruction based on the student’s needs,” Morris said. “By doing this, I learned how to administer reading assessments, analyze the data, and apply that information to create effective lesson plans for a student.”

A research-based approach to reading

“Fred Duffelmeyer was renowned in the area of literacy,” Impecoven-Lind said. “Many of the research-based strategies we use today are ones that he developed.”

When the clinic first opened, it was known as Iowa State’s Reading Improvement Clinic. After its founder’s death in 2005, it was renamed the Fred Duffelmeyer Reading Improvement Clinic in honor of the Iowa State educator who devoted his scholarly career to helping learners become ever-better readers. Over its nearly four-decades-long history, the clinic has seen an expanding list of techniques to serve a growing and diversifying population.

“We don’t talk about anything that isn’t research-based,” Impecoven-Lind said. “We use a toolbox approach, asking ourselves what the current research says in not only the area of reading, but also the area of special education.”

Impecoven-Lind  stresses that learning the strategies often implemented in special education classrooms prepares future teachers for the variety of students with whom they will work throughout their teaching careers — giving them multiple tools for their teacher toolbox.

“Research tells us that what works well for special education students works just as well for any other student,” Impecoven-Lind said. “While we’re focusing on struggling readers, we’re giving our students tools to use with all readers. It’s just good, research-based practice.”

Real-world application, student empowerment

As education students tutor the clinic’s readers, they incorporate a broad range of strategies, including those that serve kinesthetic, visual, and auditory learners.

“Our students learn to assess readers of all abilities,” Impecoven-Lind said. “They learn to break down where skill deficits are.”

Course instructors give feedback during each student interaction, and provide ongoing conversations for engaging with struggling readers.

“Our students are putting strategies into action within a safe environment — prior to going into student teaching,” Impecoven-Lind said. “We are always monitoring them — we’re giving them immediate, specific feedback.”

At the end of each evening, tutors engage in a debriefing session with their mentor groups. They discuss what went well, what concerns they still have, and how to address challenges.

“We give them a half-hour mentoring time right after tutoring,” Hayden said. “We talk about the things that came up during tutoring and how to problem-solve issues, and then we go to class. It’s a nice support for teacher candidates, who learn how to work around their lesson plans that don’t quite go as expected.”